Thursday December 3rd, 2020 6:41PM

Virus or not, it's time for class again across Europe

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

PARIS (AP) — Tugging on their masks or dashing to hug long-unseen friends, millions of children returned to school across Europe and beyond Tuesday in a mass experiment aimed at bridging inequalities and resuscitating economies — despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus threat lurked as children kissed their parents goodbye in France, shyly greeted their teachers in Jordan and Israel, settled into spaced-out desks in England and raised their hands in Russia just as infections there surpassed the 1 million mark.

While acknowledging “a bit of fear,” Jerome Continent brought his first-grader Baptiste to school Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Roissy-en-Brie, where the buzz of first-day excitement was even more intense than usual after the coronavirus outbreak upended the previous school year.

“I know we are being careful,” he said. “The children also have to live.”

With France reporting thousands of new infections daily — more than any of its neighbors — all French schoolchildren 11 and over must wear masks all day. Similar rules are in place in Balkan countries, while others are more lax about masks. Some classrooms look starkly different now, with plastic shields around desks and virus warning signs plastered everywhere.

While many U.S. school districts started class online only and others have introduced a mix of online and face-to-face learning, in-person class is the norm as Europe goes back to school. Governments are trying to show that life goes on despite a virus that has infected at least 25 million people worldwide and killed more than 850,000.

In Britain, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson sent a letter to parents saying school “really is the best place for them to be. Nothing can match being in a classroom with a real teacher to inspire them.”

Hundreds of thousands of British schoolchildren are heading to classrooms this week, with parents facing fines if they refuse to send their kids back. To reduce contact, schools are staggering break times and keeping pupils in “bubbles” with their class.

The World Health Organization acknowledged Monday that while the virus remains a threat, school closures have hurt children's mental health and social development, especially those from low-income families, with disabilities or who are in an abusive home environment.

“We cannot let children become the hidden victims of this pandemic by denying them the opportunities they so fundamentally deserve,” WHO Europe said.

Medical experts say the risk of opening schools depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community and what safety measures are taken. Evidence suggests young children don’t spread the disease very easily, while kids aged 10 and up may transmit as much as adults. WHO says children 6-to-11 should wear masks when they cannot social distance, and those 12 and older should wear masks as often as adults.

“Am I scared? Of course,” said Alma Alispahic, an elementary school teacher in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. “’The responsibility is huge, for the school, and for us, as well as for parents.”

Unlike the U.S., many European schools reopened partially at the end of the last term. Hand gel dispensers are now a familiar sight to children of any age.

Giggles and shouts rang out Tuesday at an elementary school in Brussels, Belgium as kids rediscovered swing sets and posed for first-day selfies with proud parents. One plopped a lunch on his desk, another hung up a Mickey Mouse backpack and then their class gathered in a circle around their new teacher.

“I have a good feeling about today,” said Faouzia Hariche, Brussels alderwoman in charge of education. “I can see that children are happy to return to school, teachers are all present, so we will try to organize things in the most natural way possible.”

In Germany, where children started returning to school weeks ago, thousands of students and teachers have gone into quarantine after virus outbreaks. But most are going to class regularly, and authorities have largely avoided shutting down entire schools. The government insists on learning to live with the pandemic as it drags on.

Greek authorities are delaying school reopenings by a week until Sept. 14, to let people returning from summer holidays make sure they have not contracted COVID-19.

And in Serbia, the complicated reopening system has frustrated working parents. Still, about 95% of parents sent their children back anyway, and health authorities said they will evaluate the school situation every 15 days.

In Estonia, back-to-school day looked almost normal, with students wearing neat school uniforms and bringing flowers to teachers. As in many former Soviet republics, Sept. 1 marks a national day to celebrate education, with musical performances and speeches — and this year was no exception.

Schools remain closed in most of Africa and several Asian countries, but have resumed elsewhere — notably in China, following two weeks without new cases of local transmission in the country where the pandemic originated.

In Amman, Jordan, elementary school student Reem Osama smiled Tuesday as she explained how she will face the new year.

“My mom told me not to give anyone my wipes or food or water, and not to get close to anyone, for corona not to come,” she said.


Jeffrey Schaeffer in Roissy-en-Brie, France, Sylvain Plazy in Brussels, Jill Lawless in London, Karel Janicek in Prague, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.


Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at and

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Health, AP Health - Children's Health
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
India eases virus restrictions even as cases soar
Many Indian states are easing lockdown restrictions to reduce economic pain caused by the coronavirus, even as the country’s new daily infections remain the highest in the world and its confirmed cases near 3.7 million
11:33AM ( 1 minute ago )
Virus or not, it's time for class again across Europe
Millions of children are returning to school across Europe and beyond in a mass experiment aimed at bridging inequalities and resuscitating economies despite the persistent pandemic
11:31AM ( 2 minutes ago )
Deputies fatally shoot Black man who dropped gun from bundle
Authorities say a Black man who deputies said was stopped for riding his bicycle in violation of vehicle codes was fatally shot when he dropped a bundle of items that included a gun
11:25AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Venice reclaims spotlight as 1st COVID-era film fest opens
Venice, one of the first Italian cities hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is reclaiming its place as a top cultural destination with the opening of the Venice Film Festival
10:32AM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump, friends mourn right-wing activist killed in Portland
A supporter of a right-wing group who was shot dead on a Portland, Oregon, street was mourned by both friends and President Donald Trump as a victim of mob violence
9:49AM ( 1 hour ago )
Sheriffs slam governor's plan to curb Portland violence
A plan by the governor of Oregon to use sheriff’s deputies from surrounding counties to help patrol Portland following the deadly shooting of a right-wing Trump supporter was sharply criticized by law enforcement
9:30AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
5 Things to Know for Today
Here are a few things to know about the day’s news from The Associated Press
5:59AM ( 5 hours ago )
Russia's virus cases exceed 1 million, globally 4th highest
Russia’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases has surpassed 1 million after authorities reported 4,729 new cases
4:43AM ( 6 hours ago )
Hong Kong begins mass-testing for virus amid public doubts
Hong Kong has tested thousands of people for coronavirus at the start of a mass-testing effort that’s become another political flash point in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory
4:08AM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Pandemic brings hard times for farmers, worsening hunger
The coronavirus pandemic has brought hard times for many farmers and has imperiled food security for many millions both in the cities and the countryside
11:02PM ( 12 hours ago )
New focus for campaign: Will Biden or Trump keep you safer?
The battle over who can keep Americans safe after recent violent protests has emerged as a sharp dividing line for the presidential campaign’s final weeks
10:00PM ( 13 hours ago )
Sheriffs reject governor's plan to curb Portland violence
Sheriffs from two counties in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, are rejecting a plan by the state’s governor for their deputies to keep the peace in the the city following the deadly shooting of a right-wing supporter of President Donald Trump
9:18PM ( 14 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
UK’s Boris Johnson faces rocky autumn as Parliament returns
British lawmakers have returned to Parliament after a six-week summer break, with Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic setting the stage for a turbulent fall
10:32AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: German lab head cautions on use for tests
The head of an association representing German medical laboratories has criticized proposals to use veterinary and industrial labs to process coronavirus tests
10:19AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Berlin protesters must wear masks to curb virus
Authorities in Berlin say protesters must wear face masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus after a demonstration where thousands ignored social distancing rules last weekend
8:21AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Health
‘Protect our babies:’ Hospital cares for babies in hurricane
A medical team at a southwestern Louisiana hospital worked through the night to care for 19 tiny babies as Hurricane Laura slammed the region
5:02PM ( 2 days ago )
Japan's PM Shinzo Abe says he's resigning for health reasons
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, says he’s resigning because a chronic illness has resurfaced
4:24AM ( 4 days ago )
Back to class: Despite virus surge, Europe reopens schools
Despite a spike in coronavirus infections, authorities in Europe are determined to send children back to school
12:19PM ( 4 days ago )
AP Health - Children's Health
Deputies fatally shoot Black man who dropped gun from bundle
Authorities say a Black man who deputies said was stopped for riding his bicycle in violation of vehicle codes was fatally shot when he dropped a bundle of items that included a gun
11:25AM ( 8 minutes ago )
NYC delays start of school year to allow more prep time
Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City is delaying sending students back to classrooms in the nation’s largest public school system
11:16AM ( 17 minutes ago )
Feds want deal with North Dakota over pipeline protest costs
The Army Corps of Engineers is recommending that the federal government negotiate a settlement with North Dakota for more than $38 million that the state spent policing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline
11:15AM ( 18 minutes ago )
Daughter says 'Hotel Rwanda' hero was 'kidnapped' in Dubai
The man portrayed in the film “Hotel Rwanda” as saving the lives of more than 1,200 people from genocide was “kidnapped” while in Dubai, his daughter asserts
11:00AM ( 34 minutes ago )
Stocks drift higher on Wall Street after big gain in August
Stocks are drifting higher on Wall Street Tuesday morning, a day after notching their biggest monthly gain since April
10:59AM ( 34 minutes ago )